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21 grams

The stolen soul, compressed in Jpeg.

Written by Ermanno Ivone Except in a few extreme states, the detention of those 21 grams is legal, it is appropriate, and it is also socially/institutionally encouraged. They are cared for, foraged, force-fed with funnels. Ready to be consumed without even passing through the microwave. 21 grams is the measurement that is associated with the soul according to the theory of Dr McDougall who noted the difference in weight, as a statistical average, between living and dead patients (21 grams less). A theory, however, not recognised by science. But still something romantically tangible and estimable compared to its very intangible essence. “The definition and understanding of the soul often depends on each individual’s personal beliefs, cultural perspectives and spiritual traditions.” (source ChatGPT). It is increasingly difficult to attribute certainty to the breath of life. ermanno ivone (6) Yet we live for its total satisfaction. So much so that we are jealous of it and indefatigable protectors of it. Unless an offer is made to us that cannot be refused. Not by Vito Corleone, but more likely by some temptation wearing hooves, scorched wings and the horns of a traitor rather than a betrayer. Photography is one of those temptations. For those who perform it and for those who are represented in the photographic shot. To wish for someone to represent who we are down to our deepest essence is a hedonistic and introspective certification temptation that few would want to give up if given the chance. On the other hand, for the person producing a photograph, to feel between one’s eyelashes the divine power to cage a soul is an incomparable seduction that deserves countless attempts, commitment, dedication as well as a handful of luck. Stealing the soul in order to preserve it, though temporarily, in a memory card (sometimes with the aggravating factor of jpeg compression when saving the file) is one of the highest aims of a photographer, whether expert or neophyte. This justifies the deeper, etymological value of its task when it is used to immortalise someone (from the Latin: immortalis, compound of in- non and mortal mortal). ermanno ivone (5)The surrender of the soul occurs by tacit agreement and/or simple exchange of glances. Not always bound to a release and not always legitimised by an explicit request for consensual abduction and abduction. A form of undue appropriation that possibly gives the rest of the world that observes it a prototypisation of humanity. A transformation of status, from immaterial to material and usable. There are few who have not seen and been lost in the gaze of the Afghan girl with green eyes shot by Steve McCurry in 1984 and published by National Geographic, still an emblematic academic example of soul capturing. The same can be said for the portraits of Henri Cartier-Bresson (who said ‘A photograph is neither captured nor taken by force. It offers itself. It is the photo that captures you’), Robert Capa (‘The images are there, and all you have to do is take them’), Annie Leibovitz (‘The purpose of photography is to recreate an instant that means something to others’), Diane Arbus (‘For me, the subject of the image is always more important than the image’), Robert Doisneau (‘…You have to offer people a seed that will grow and open their minds’) and many others. The Marilyn (Monroe) photographed by Richard Avedon in a moment of suspension of her thoughts with a distracted gaze represents the real soul of the superdiva imprisoned in a role that would soon lead her to self-destruction. You could semi-scientifically say that the preeminent thread in the possibility of capturing the soul is the presence, in the photographic composition, of the gaze. More than anything else its intensity: the element that helps the observer to be born and die in a single instant in the existence of that represented subject, devouring in a single bite its story or constructing an interpreted one. ermanno ivone (1) Roland Barthes would call this the punctum. That is, the emotional aspect in which the viewer is irrationally affected by a particular detail of the photo. If we look at a portrait, we look for the eye. If we take a portrait, we focus on the eye (in most cases). Even in an overabundance of elements, of flying hair or rubble behind (this is the case of reporters), in the eye we look for the extreme synthesis of a story that can be understood or shared by the ‘reader’ posthumously to that shot. When in a portrait the eye is not there, it is not visible, we turn around with our imagination and assume it to be linked to an emotion that cannot be dissolved. We use our investigative skills to go and search in that hidden moment for what it is absorbing and can return to us in vibrations. It is a real struggle that our curiosity performs in dealing with human nature, millennia-old defined but never uniquely captured. This necessitates the need/hunger for projection and representation. A bulimia of empathy that the visual arts only partially help to fill in the fundamental question: who are we? ermanno ivone (4) The idea and expression of ‘soul stealing’ begins with photography seen as a spell capable of depriving the represented subject of its soul by the ‘wizard’ photographer. In the same way as assumed by the untainted communities of the industrialised world (e.g. Native Americans or Australian Aborigines). Deprived of the possibility of consent, they faced the rest of their lives with the conviction that they had been relieved of the most important part of them. A spell and an abuse that, going beyond animist beliefs and superstitions, backfired on us. The overabundance of images and the ease with which they can be produced could generate the self-damnation of the human being. A compulsive accumulation of selfies that not only affects the memory of one’s smartphone but also creates semi-infinite copies of ourselves progressively devoid of a content (of a soul), redundant with pseudo-real contexts that only leave room for the inflation of form. A progressive lowering of the purchasing power of being that favours the possible ineffectiveness of future aesthetics (understood as an art variable). ermanno ivone (7) [CONCERNED ALGORITHMIC PARENTHESIS]On the subject of thievery, we are currently digitised spectators of thefts no longer only of the soul. The increasingly accessible and content-driven Deep Fake creates fakes through deep neural networks. It allows one person’s face and voice to be replaced by someone else’s. One of the first terrifying (in terms of consequences) examples was when the face of a porn actress in a video was replaced by that of Gal Gadot. Or Obama’s face used to make him say sentences he would never have uttered. Up to the most recent memes devoid of sexual or political complications but still hyper-realistic presentations of a falsehood constructed in a few hours of automatic video processing. At the moment, the only defence against deep fakes is the critical capacity left to the individual who observes them. Which makes it all the more worrying. {parenthesis in parenthesis. Plagiarism is also a form of misappropriation of someone else’s soul}. It is therefore legitimate to think that the soul CAN be stolen from the subject being portrayed. ermanno ivone (2) Instead, it is certain that a soul has already been stolen, sold, exchanged: that of the photographer. All photographers, amateur, semi-pro, seasoned and experienced who live their passion unconditionally have surrendered their soul to photography. A surrender without a notarial deed that, in exchange for sacrifice and love, builds the possibility of making available to one’s world – be it small or large – the interpretation of this strange human species for which we cannot stop cheering. It is only right that there should be a votive gift, a cost or a deprivation for the achievement of an end higher than our own expectations. To be able to give the world something it needs or something it does not yet value is the most important achievement a photographer can aspire to. If we even partially succeed in this, we will find ourselves with an already condoned enlargement of the soul and will certainly take a few extra grams. ermanno ivone (8)  

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